After election staff refused to count the 4,076 ballots cast by Israelis who could be carrying the deadly coronavirus, the task has reportedly fallen to senior officials in the Central Elections Committee, with the tally possibly being carried out in a specially equipped tent.
Among those who will open the ballots, each of which is inside an envelope that is sealed inside a nylon bag, are Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas; the committee’s legal adviser, Dean Livne; spokesperson Giora Fordes; and various department heads, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday. They will wear masks and gloves as they carry out the work.
The boxes of slips from the 16 special polling stations where citizens under home quarantine were permitted to vote have reportedly been untouched due to fears of contagion, even as election officials pressed ahead with counting all the other votes.
In the hours after the elections, votes are counted manually by elections officials at either the polling places, or at one of 18 regional CEC headquarters. However, special ballots — those of soldiers, medical staff and patients in hospitals, prisoners and disabled people, as well as diplomats abroad who vote earlier than the rest of the population — are brought to the CEC main headquarters in the Knesset for counting. Those ballots are each sealed inside double envelopes as part of the process to prevent tampering.
The quarantined ballots have so far been treated as special ballots. Their count will only be done after all the other election officials involved in counting the special votes have already been cleared from the building. The ballots may also be tallied in a tent set up outside, according to the report.
Adas told Ynet the committee has appealed to the Magen David Adom ambulance service to provide medics to oversee the operation. MDA personnel, wearing protective suits and masks, were the ones who staffed 16 quarantined polling stations where the votes were cast during Monday’s election.
Election officials are expected to finish counting the votes from the general public on Tuesday. During the night, work will start on the special double envelope votes, and on Wednesday morning a tally of the quarantined votes will be carried out.
The country’s doctors union, the Israel Medical Association, rejected concerns of infection by those handling the ballots.
“As far as is known, the coronavirus is not transferred via objects such as voting slips and there are no reports of the disease transferred in that way,” the IMA said in a statement.
“The public should be instructed to reduce transmission of the virus in accordance with scientific knowledge and public health principles, based on science rather than fears,” it said.
On Monday, the specially equipped voting booths opened their tent flaps for over 5,600 voters who were under home quarantine as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
So far, 12 Israelis have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.
The Israelis who were allowed out of quarantine to vote were ordered to take special precautions such as putting on face masks before they exit their vehicles and trying to make the trip to the voting station without being accompanied by others who are not in quarantine. They were also prohibited from stopping on the way to and from the voting stations.
Additionally, anyone who showed symptoms of the disease was forbidden from using even the special voting stations. Those hospitalized were granted special voting procedures already in place for patients.
Israel does not allow absentee ballots.
The polling stations, located in the cities of Jerusalem, Safed, Afula Illit, Haifa, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Holon, Beersheba, Ashkelon, Eilat, Rosh Ha’ayin, Modiin, and Kfar Saba, were each made up of two small tents with an adjoining window: in one tent sat Magen David Adom paramedics, specially trained for Monday as polling administrators; in the other, visible through the transparent plastic, the ballot box sat on a table behind a blue screen.
As voters arrived, they were greeted by polling staff wearing full protective gear who asked them to temporarily take off their face masks and checked their identity against their Israeli identity card. Then, after each applying anti-bacterial hand gel, the voters were given a specially prepared pack with a new face mask and gloves to wear while voting.
With just over 90% of votes counted on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party was expected to become the largest party in the Knesset, with some 36 seats. It was set to easily surpass its rivals Blue and White with 32 seats, though its path to building a majority coalition remained uncertain, with projections indicating the right was still short of a 61-seat majority in the Knesset. The numbers continued to change as the vote count progressed during the day.